Provinces that fought Ottawa's carbon tax could follow N.B.'s lead, Higgs says

·3 min read
Premier Blaine Higgs says now that the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the federal carbon tax plan, provinces that opposed it could go New Brunswick's way and make their own. (Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick - image credit)
Premier Blaine Higgs says now that the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the federal carbon tax plan, provinces that opposed it could go New Brunswick's way and make their own. (Submitted by the Government of New Brunswick - image credit)

Premier Blaine Higgs says the legal debate over carbon pricing is over in Canada and it's time to find a way to make the fight against climate change fair for all provinces.

Higgs says he wasn't surprised Thursday when the Supreme Court of Canada issued a 6-3 ruling that Ottawa's carbon pricing system, including its requirement that provinces follow suit, is constitutional.

He told reporters it's likely that the provinces that took the case to court and have refused to create their own carbon prices will now follow his lead and craft their own versions.

"Once you've exhausted the legal process, there comes a time when you have to look within and say 'How can I best mitigate the losses or the impact on the citizens of my province?' And I'm sure they'll do that."

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Thursday he would look at bringing in a pricing system like New Brunswick's.

Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta challenged the federal system in court. All three provinces have refused to implement their own carbon prices and have had Ottawa impose its regime, the so-called "backstop," on them.

Higgs initially joined them but after the federal Liberals were re-elected in 2019, including with a majority of New Brunswick seats, he said he would respect voters and bring in his own pricing system.

That involves a levy at the pumps that will rise to 8.8 cents per litre on April 1. It will cost drivers only 4.2 cents thanks to a cut to the gas excise tax last year.

Rather than cut the excise tax again this year, Higgs is looking at rebating some of the revenue directly to consumers, similar to the federal backstop.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he would look at bringing in a pricing system like New Brunswick's.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he would look at bringing in a pricing system like New Brunswick's.(CBC)

Higgs told reporters all provinces accept the need for action on climate change and "the only thing we are probably likely opposed to in many areas is the pace on which we get there."

But he said it's unfair that the federal system puts provinces with a lot of renewable energy, like Quebec's network of hydro dams, at an advantage over those who rely heavily on oil and coal like Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Climate change "is real, we need to deal with it, but we can't destroy our country in the process," Higgs said.

"This has got to be an all-for-one, one-for-all type of approach. This can't be some provinces win really big and other provinces lose really big. Because that's kind of the way it's shaping up right now."

The federal pricing standard will continue to increase every year through to 2030 when it will reach $170 per tonne of fossil fuels, the equivalent of about 37 cents per litre of unleaded gasoline.

Opposition Liberal Leader Roger Melanson said with the legal battle over, Higgs should now use all of the provincial carbon price revenue on climate change initiatives.

The Liberals and the Green Party have accused the Progressive Conservatives of spending some of the money on government infrastructure that would have been funded from other revenues if there were no carbon tax.

Melanson said, after years of government inaction on climate change, it's time "accelerate" efforts to slow its impact.

But he wouldn't say if he supports the decision by his federal Liberal allies in Ottawa to keep scaling up the price to 37 cents a litre nine years from now.

"What I support is to be aggressive to address the climate change issue," he said.